THE FEAST OF THE ASCENSION
MAY 10, 2018
ST. MARK 16:14–20
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
ST. MARK 16:14,20
Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen… Then [after the Ascension] the disciples went out and preached everywhere.
Think of it. These Apostles saw and heard the evidence: the empty tomb, the reports of those who spoke to Jesus. But they didn't get it. They saw, but they didn't see.
Think also of the Mary Magdalene and the Emmaus disciples. Jesus did let them see Him until He wanted them to see and then He was went away. Jesus told Mary not to cling to His physical body once she recognized Him; Jesus was only recognized by the Clopas in the breaking of bread and then He vanished.
But this is what Jesus does. He hides His visible presence, in order that He might create trust in His word and be with us everywhere we go, in sickness and in health, in life and in death.
Ascension is the day when Jesus went away and hid Himself from visible sight. And Jesus hiding Himself from view makes all the difference in the world. For years the disciples had seen Jesus, yet they stumbled around saying things like:
“Could you explain this parable again?”
“We don't have enough bread.”
“You'll never die, Jesus!”
But now after Jesus hides Himself, they joyfully trust His word by the work of the Holy Spirit and now understand His purpose and their purpose. He taught them to see Him when they wouldn't be able to see Him anymore. But we still can find Him. We just have to look for where He wants to be found until the end of time: in Baptism and preaching.
ST. MARK 16:15–16
Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.
But we want to see. We want to see results. This is why some seek validation of their faith by speaking in tongues or handling snakes or behaving well according to their goodness checklist. They want visible and aural proof that they are worthy of God's love. But they are seeking Christ where He hides Himself, and they will not find Him there.
Lutherans aren't immune from wanting to see Jesus where He isn't to be found. We want to see Jesus in numbers. We want to find our confidence in growing schools and churches with lots of young people. We want to see Jesus make our country great again. We want our pastors to be CEOs who lead our churches into a glorious future. But all of that is a sinful lust for glory here on earth.
Repent. Dear friends, turn and look at your Savior. See His cross that saves us through His blood. Bathe in your Baptism every morning by confessing your evil ways—yes, actually saying them out loud wouldn't hurt—and then die to them. Die to your sinful selfish self. Then rise to new life by the grace of your Savior Jesus, who washes you clean and new.
He does this because He is at His Father's right hand. He went up and then He sat down. He did this so that He would keep His promise to be with all of us.
If He had not ascended to heaven and visibly remained on earth, millions would flock to seek an audience with Him, but billions more would never enjoy His gracious presence.
Yes, Jesus could have promised to still be with us, even if He had remained visibly on earth, but think of how the devil would use that against us. Most would be convinced that unless you made a pilgrimage to see Jesus in Jerusalem (probably), you wouldn't be a good Christian. Think of the powerful drive of so many religions to be a pilgrim and visit holy sites like Mecca or Rome or Statue of Liberty or Wrigley Field.
So Jesus went up to be with us down here through His word.
To the world Jesus' ascent is a weakness. The world claims that if it had physical proof, they would believe. But they do not know what they are saying. Many saw Jesus and most did not believe.
The only thing that creates faith in Christ is His word.
To His people Jesus' ascent into heaven is good news because He's risen from the grave! He's gone up to heaven! And now He's here!
In Jesus' Name. Amen.
God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Thanks be to God!